The Rules of Digital Transformation

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In five years time we’ll look back and realise we had it wrong about digital.

Digital transformation was never about digital, and rarely about transformation.

It’s actually about the processes by which you change your business model or approach. Some of which will have digital elements.

The problem I have with digital cheerleading is two fold:

  • The implication that all our problems are easily ‘solvable’
  • The subsequent rush towards technology — as if digital is the only solution.

This week I was at the BT Innovation Centre talking about our experience of change. It was a wonderful couple of days but I left with a worry that our obsession with digital transformation is becoming the problem rather than the solution.

I’m at the latter stages of service design across a large organisation and so far one thing is clear:

Pretty much everyone said they wanted a digital or system solution.

What everyone really needed was a hugely simplified business model or process that reflected current strategy.

My issue with digital transformation and the snake oil salesmen that surround us with system solutions is the implication that everything being digitised is somehow better.

The evidence that technology makes us more productive is weak at best. There’s an ever increasing gap between technological sophistication and work actually being performed. Think on that before you purchase that new software.

Also most change isn’t truly transformational — its focus is firmly on improving efficiency and customer experience rather than rewriting the business model.

Research from McKinsey supports the fact that most transformation programmes fail, finding that only 26% of transformations have been “very or completely successful at both improving performance and equipping the organisation to sustain improvements over time”.

Their research goes on to suggest that the odds of making a transformation successful can be dramatically improved by how we talk about change. The way we frame it is an essential element in how people embrace and implement it.

By breaking change down into the simplest possible elements we would boost the chance of success. (This lovely sketchnote from Tanmay Vora sums up my thoughts here.)

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Digital will never be a silver bullet for problems that have beset organisations for decades.

Equally — claiming digital as being the driver for everything dumbs change down. Implying everything can be solved with a system does a huge disservice to our people and the human capacity for creativity and innovation.

Changing your business has many elements: leadership, people, process and, of course, digital.

Ultimately though there’s only one rule to live by here:

Strategy , not technology, drives transformation.

Originally published at on May 26, 2017.

Written by

Innovation Coach and Co-Founder of @BromfordLab. Follow for social innovation and customer experience.

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